The eventual best picture Oscar winner played or premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival from 2007 to 2013. Then last year, “Birdman” bypassed the Canadian event in favor of a closing slot at the New York Film Festival. Fox Searchlight figured that after earlier high-profile dates at the Venice and Telluride festivals, it was better to slot the New York-centric “Birdman” in the city where it was filmed.
Like every other decision the studio and its consultants made last year, it was the right call. “Birdman” won the Oscar, making it, after “12 Years a Slave,” back-to-back wins for the studio.
Toronto organizers could console themselves with the fact that both the lead actor (Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”) and lead actress (Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”) Oscar winners came from movies that had their world premieres at the festival.
Both Moore and Redmayne will be returning to Toronto this year along with an impressive slate of awards-season hopefuls. Who has the early momentum? Let’s look at the lineup, which, remember, will only expand in the coming weeks.
“The Danish Girl” (North American premiere)
Period bio love story about the relationship between Danish artists Gerda (Alicia Vikander) and Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and how it evolves after Einar starts living as a woman. Combine a hot button issue with two Oscar winners (Redmayne and director Tom Hooper) and a talented newcomer (Vikander), and you have the makings of an Oscar juggernaut.
“The Martian” (world premiere)
We’ve seen a rough cut of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi survival story, and it’s pretty great. Look for comparisons to 2013 TIFF outer space sensation “Gravity” as well as raves for Matt Damon’s lead turn as a stranded astronaut.
“Legend” (international premiere)
We’ve also seen this crime thriller, which sports the gimmick of the great actor Tom Hardy playing twin gangster brothers Reggie and Ron Kray. Hardy’s work is stellar, but the film, written and directed by Brian Helgeland, has its share of problems. It’s also extremely violent, and the stabby-stab-stab bloodshed will be sure to alienate many of the academy’s more squeamish members.
“Freeheld” (world premiere)
This is based on the true story (in fact, there’s already been a short film doc, 2007’s “Freeheld”) about a cancer-stricken New Jersey police detective (Julianne Moore) fighting to pass on her pension to her domestic partner (Ellen Page). Both actresses deliver their usual high-caliber work, and Steve Carell shines in support as an attorney fighting for their cause.
“The Program” (world premiere)
Two years ago at Toronto, director Stephen Frears made waves with “Philomena,” and now he’s back with this Lance Armstrong biopic starring Ben Foster. Controversy and quality seem equally assured.
“Trumbo” (world premiere)
Bryan Cranston won a Tony for playing a president (Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way”) and four Emmys for his turn as a teacher turned meth dealer in “Breaking Bad.” Great movie roles have eluded him until possibly now with this biopic about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.
“Where to Invade Next” (world premiere)
The TIFF press release says Michael Moore’s latest doc “may be his most provocative and hilarious movie yet.” There’s a certain fatigue for Moore on both sides of the aisle, so this look at U.S. foreign policy shaped by the Pentagon would do well to live up to the festival’s promotion.
“Youth” (North American premiere)
Paolo Sorrentino won the Oscar for foreign-language film two years ago for “The Great Beauty.” His latest, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as old friends looking back at life and love, scored with critics this year at Cannes and should appeal to the same cineastes who adored “Beauty.”
“Beasts of No Nation” (Canadian premiere)
Cary Fukunaga’s war drama will arrive at TIFF just after a premiere at Telluride. The Netflix-distributed movie follows a young boy pressured to join a group of mercenary fighters in a West African country. Idris Elba stars as a warlord who teaches the child soldier about the ways of war.
“Black Mass” (Canadian premiere)
This crime-drama about Irish American gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) will also swing by Telluride first. Scott Cooper directed Jeff Bridges to his first Oscar with “Crazy Heart.” Might he do the same for Depp?
“Brooklyn” (Canadian premiere)
John Crowley’s immigrant love story pleased the crowd and then some at Sundance earlier this year. Saoirse Ronan should receive plenty of lead actress award consideration for her turn as a young Irish woman who discovers a nice cure for homesickness: love.
“Spotlight” (Canadian premiere)
Boston Globe reporters investigate allegations of abuse in the Catholic church. The cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams. Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) co-wrote and directs.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10-20.